Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley could be pulled into a parliamentary investigation over his business practices and the treatment of 200 former USC warehouse workers.
The employees, who worked at USC’s distribution depot at Dundonald, Ayrshire, lost their jobs last month with no financial compensation when Sports Direct put the young fashion retailer into administration. USC was later bought by Republic, another of Sports Direct’s fascias.
The Scottish Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry into what happened, inviting Ashley to give evidence at a parliamentary session. The request does not legally oblige him to go, but if he refuses they have the power to summon him.
Drapers understands the inquiry is likely to take place before the general election in May.
A spokeswoman said the committee would look into USC’s administration, including what attempts were made to rescue the company and whether large companies were prioritised over employees for payment prior to the business collapsing.
Meanwhile, Labour backbencher and local MP for Dundonald Brian Donohoe was due to meet some of the depot workers on Thursday at his central Ayrshire constituency. He called their treatment at the hands of USC and Sports Direct “despicable” and “appalling”.
Donohoe told Drapers this week that he wants to “see justice administered”, adding: “Ashley should be settling with his loyal workers. They are owed wages, holiday pay and bonuses, and for him to just walk away and leave his workers in such a state beggars belief,” he said.
“There is a moral obligation on Ashley. Anyone who has a bit of humanity about them would act in a more sympathetic way.”
At a House of Commons debate on January 27, Jo Swinson, minister for employment relations and consumer affairs in the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, said the events at USC were “particularly concerning” as it is not just a small company on its own but one part of a large retail group.
She continued: “MPs have raised significant concerns about the behaviour of Mike Ashley and I share those concerns. He seems determined to show that rules are for other people. There are serious questions to be answered about USC and many of its practices. The Insolvency Service has the power to receive information from the administrators and to investigate any company it believes has questions to answer.”
Donohue is also the secretary of Westminster’s Rangers Supporters Club and wants to ban Ashley’s involvement in Scottish football.
Sports Direct declined to comment.